Revolutionary Worker #900, March 30, 1997
April 1, 1997 opens a cruel season. The federal government is moving many of its sweeping cuts in welfare, disability checks and food stamps off the drawing board.
April 1 marks the date when federal benefits are scheduled to be cut off for most legal immigrants. April 1, government agencies will reportedly start turning away many immigrants who come in to apply for benefits--unless the people can prove that they meet various exemptions. Benefits will be cut off unless immigrants can prove that they are veterans or worked in the U.S. during 40 different three-month periods. This is often difficult for workers who held jobs as farmworkers, domestics or garment workers--whose employers often don't keep detailed records.
Under the new welfare law, most legal immigrants currently in the country and nearly all future legal immigrants will be denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food stamps. States have the option of denying people Medicaid and welfare as well. Seven states--Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Delaware--are scheduled to cut off Medicaid to elderly and disabled immigrants. At least 900,000 immigrant people are expected to be hit by the cutoff of food stamps. Estimates are not available about how many immigrant people will be hurt by the withdrawal of rent subsidies, public housing, Medicaid, and other social services. In California these attacks come on the heels of the 187 law which targeted undocumented immigrants by denying them social services.
In February a million legal immigrants received letters announcing that their disability checks would now be cut off--and instructing them to notify the government if they could document 10 years of work in the U.S. or meet other exemptions. One typical government letter shared with the RW told an elderly immigrant woman that she had until May 15 to explain why her checks shouldn't be cut off. It is predicted that Social Security checks will be cut off sometime between now and September for well over half a million immigrant people, who are overwhelmingly elderly, blind or disabled. These checks typically are only $500 to $600 a month. Many people are expected to be thrown out of their apartments or nursing homes when their benefits stop.
A new federal immigration law now demands that state social agencies cooperate more closely with the federal immigration police (INS)--identifying and reporting people who are suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
At the same time, April 1 has been the federal deadline for cutting off food stamps to any adults between 18 and 50 who are not raising children--and who did not succeed in finding a job in the first three months of this year. This cut alone is expected to take food away from a million people. The new welfare law now only allows unemployed adults under age 50 who are not raising children to receive food stamps three months out of every three years. Food stamps have always been considered "the safety net under the safety net" for the unemployed. Now that protection is being taken away.
Many of the cuts are being administered state by state. And many states have declared that they expect to be "overwhelmed" by the social effect of cutting off food to hundreds of thousands of people at once. Forty states have applied for permission to continue giving food stamps to childless adults after the April 1 deadline--at least temporarily. The federal law allowed exceptions for areas with high unemployment. As a result, the New York State government has asked to have exemptions for 38 "labor surplus areas," including New York City--while in states like Michigan and Wisconsin these food stamp cuts are simply going through. Congressional conservatives have announced that they intend to "tighten the loopholes" to force state governments to cut off food stamps and benefits to large numbers of people.
It is unclear precisely what will happen and when. And things will probably remain unclear until checks actually stop and hungry people are actually turned away at food stamp lines.
However this much is clear: The federal government is pressing ahead with the destruction of the social net protecting the poorest sections of the population. Over the coming months, the plans are in place to cut off benefits or food stamps to over a million immigrants, many thousands of disabled children, and a million unemployed adults. This is certain to put people in desperate situations--profoundly affecting millions of families.
Fear, anger and many rumors are spreading among immigrant families and poor people. Many people who have lived, worked and paid taxes in this country for years are facing cancellation of their benefits and their rights to future benefits. Many elderly and disabled immigrants are facing the elimination of the tiny allotments they get though food stamps, public housing and disability checks--and have no idea how they will now live.
In many immigrant neighborhoods there is a rush to apply for citizenship. The government has slowed down the process, in part by intensifying their checks for "criminal backgrounds"--so that there is now a backlog of a million people. The wait is up to nine months. Meanwhile, with calculated cruelty, the Clinton administration has just announced new federal regulations denying citizenship to people with severe mental conditions like Alzheimer's and mental retardation. The bogus justification for this is that such people can't knowingly pledge loyalty to the U.S. government. This move seems deliberately designed to prevent such disabled people from becoming citizens and keeping their Social Security incomes. The government refuses to say how many people this new rule will affect. And it does not say how these mentally disabled people are supposed to survive without help and income.
There has been repeated concern in the mainstream press about a wave of suicides among elderly and disabled people--which reveals the calculated cruelty that is about to go down. One 51-year-old disabled Cuban immigrant, Wolzon Lescay, reportedly hanged himself in despair last August, nine days after being told that his disability check would be cut off.
Along with such fear and desperation has come beginning signs of organized resistance: Thousands of immigrants and supporters took to the streets in Los Angeles on March 9 (see RW #899). Miguel Maldanado of the Immigrant Workers Association told the RW that a similar action is planned in New York for April 1. The organization La Resistencia is circulating a call to "Organize a National Movement of Non-Compliance with the `Welfare Reform Law' and All Anti-immigrant Legislation."
This month, and throughout this coming season of cruelty, it is the immigrants and disabled children who are targeted first--no doubt because the ruling class hoped (and calculated) that these brothers and sisters could be brutalized without stirring massive resistance. These coming months will be the first test of mass cutoffs--a test of the will of the ruling class and of the consciousness of the people. After these cutoffs will come more. In state after state, year after year, more and more people on welfare will be forced into dead-end "workfare" arrangements. And in a few years another massive wave of cuts will come--as hundreds of thousands of families are cut off welfare and forced "into the abyss all at once."
The only way to answer these outrages is to resist--to unite, to organize and to fight against these brutal plans and the system that is pushing them through. Right now the system is starting by targeting and attacking immigrant people. And that is where people must now mobilize to take a stand.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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